It is no coincidence that the rise in obesity and anxiety correlate.
While diet and lifestyle are to blame for the spread of obesity, depression and anxiety play a significant role in determining why we make bad decisions when it comes to our health.
People with anxiety or depression are 60 percent more likely to be obese. Obese people are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from mood disorders and even moderately overweight people report higher rates of anxiety than healthy weighted individuals. These statistics aren’t surprising when body image is reported as the number one concern of young people under the age of 25.
Fat Bastard from Austin Powers explains the relationship between obesity and anxiety perfectly admitting, “I can’t stop eating. I eat because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat.”
Individuals who suffer from anxiety and obesity can get stuck in a vicious cycle of stress – eat – obesity – stress – eat.
Like alcohol, smokes and drugs, food is often used to alleviate anxiety – numbing unpleasant emotions and helping to lift our mood, if only momentarily. When we eat, our body releases serotonin into our body. This surge in serotonin makes us feel better, however, the high is short-lived. In order to maintain our mood, we must eat continue to eat our “comfort food” of choice.
Weight-based discrimination is also damaging for people with weight issues and does not encourage weight loss. Finger-pointing, segregation and blame only help to aggravate anxiety and depression, contributing further to stress.
In Australia and the rest of the Western world we are constantly under stress from work, relationships, university or school, work, the recession, unlimited choice, social media or any number of other lifestyle pressures. It can be incredibly challenging to navigate stress and maintain physical health when high-energy fast foods are cheap and incredibly convenient.
The good news is that treating either obesity or anxiety will help improve the other condition. To turn the stats around, we first need to acknowledge the strong relationship between physical and mental health. We need to address fat discrimination and consider alternative, calorie-free ways to improve our mood.